O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU: Obama Lets Us Down On Privacy, Pot And The Fourth Amendment


CBS NEWS: As CBS News’ Chief Political Correspondent Marc Ambinder points out, the top-rated questions in the “budget” and “fiscal stability” sections of the submissions page concerned the legalization of marijuana. (Here’s one: “With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?”) Hotsheet did not expect President Obama to address the pot questions during the town hall, particularly after the event opened with a pair of relatively straightforward questions. But we were wrong: the president interrupted the event midway through to address the issue.

“…we took votes about which questions were going to be asked, and I think 3 million people voted or 3.5 million people voted,” he said. “I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation.” The obonga.jpgpresident then joked that “I don’t know what this says about the online audience,” prompting laughter from the roughly 100 people gathered in the White House East Room for the event. “…but I just want — I don’t want people to think that — this was a fairly popular question,” he continued. “We want to make sure that it was answered.” And then he answered it in a way that must come as a disappointment to legalization advocates – though they could at least take solace in the fact that he did not flatly state that he opposes legalization. “The answer is, no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy,” the president said. His answer prompted applause from the audience. MORE

medicalmarijuanathugfreeamerica_1.jpgSF WEEKLY: Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a policy shift away from the Drug Enforcement Agency raiding marijuana dispensaries in states that have approved medical marijuana. So, it came as something of a shock that DEA agents today raided Emmalyn’s California Cannabis Clinic at 1597 Howard Street. Calls to the dispensary did not go through; for whatever reason the phone did not ring. Aaron Smith, the California Policy Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, was beside himself. “It sounds like the DEA didn’t get the memo, eh?” he said, noting that, immediately preceding President Barack Obama’s inauguration, DEA agents raided Los Angeles Dispensaries. “But now, the message from Attorney General Holder couldn’t be clearer. This is insane.” MORE


obamafrown.jpgWIRED: President Barack Obama came into office in January promising a new era of openness. But now, like Bush before him, Obama is playing the national security card to hide details of the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement being negotiated across the globe. The White House this week declared the text of the proposed treaty a “properly classified” national security secret, in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request by Knowledge Ecology International. “Please be advised the documents you seek are being withheld in full,” wrote  Carmen Suro-Bredie, chief FOIA officer in the White House’s Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The national security claim is stunning, given that the treaty negotiations have included the 27 member states of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand, all of whom presumably have access to the “classified” information.

obamafrown.jpgIn early January, the Bush administration made the same claim in rejecting (.pdf) a similar FOIA request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If ratified, leaked documents posted on WikiLeaks and other comments suggest the proposed trade accord would criminalize peer-to-peer file sharing, subject iPods to border searches and allow internet service providers to monitor their customers’ communications.

In his first days in office, Obama publicly committed himself to transparency, instructing  government agencies to err on the side of public access and divulge information whenever possible under the Freedom of Information Act. Obama recently released a trove of documents relating to the Bush administration’s rationale for torture of enemy combatants and other abuses. At the same time, though, Justice Department lawyers have been arguing in court that the “state secrets privilege” should bar lawsuits over the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. MORE

obamafrown.jpgRELATED: The Obama administration is invoking the state secrets privilege for the second time this week, this time in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. The move, which the judge in the case rejected Friday afternoon, came days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the department was reviewing all the litigation it inherited from the Bush administration in which the privilege was invoked.

Also this week, the Justice Department invoked the privilege before a federal appeals court to scuttle a case brought by five U.S. prisoners who claim the CIA was behind their kidnapping, which brought them overseas where they claim they were tortured. The litigation tactics underscore that, while the Obama administration has denounced many of the policies of the Bush administration, it has so far not changed litigation tactics in defending lawsuits challenging those policies.

obamafrown.jpgThe state secrets privilege was first recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era lawsuit in 1953, and has been increasingly and successfully invoked by federal lawyers seeking to shield the government from court scrutiny. Generally, lawsuits in which national-security information may be divulged are usually tossed by judges, at the request of the government.

The latest move for state secrets filed Thursday came when the Justice Department urged a San Francisco federal judge to stay enforcement of a ruling admitting key evidence in a case — evidence the government claims is a state secret. Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to permit the government to ask a federal appeals court to review his Jan. 5 ruling. MORE

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